I went to Auvers-sur-Oise because I wanted to stay on a houseboat, not because of Vincent Van Gogh.
I caught a late morning train from the Gare du Nord in Paris, and in thirty-five minutes, I was in the countryside. The day was overcast and gray and pervaded by the kind of humid cold that sneaks into your boots and chills you. An unexpected snowstorm in Paris had left my feet perpetually frozen, and I’d made several trips to the Decathlon near my apartment to buy thick wool socks.
Walking along the Seine one afternoon, I had seen several houseboats moored in the 16th arrondissement near the Eiffel Tower. Wine bottles littered their decks. Ashtrays overflowed with cigarette butts and ashes, wet from the melting snow. Above, the city’s traffic rushed along the river. The boats didn’t look exactly peaceful, but I kept thinking about how they bounced lazily up and down in the current.
The journey by river is a classic heroic quest, undertaken by figures as different as Conrad’s Marlow and Huck Finn. Rivers triumph over our will. We must bend to theirs. They carry us along, to wherever we may be going, and they connect us to the past. They flow though time, linking up disparate moments, forging connections between things that are present and absent.
I wanted to be on a river, but I didn’t really want to go anywhere. I just wanted to watch the river go somewhere. All I had to do was find a houseboat, a boat that played at domesticity. Continue Reading…